Big Sean strolled onstage Sunday night (April 2) still riding high off what he called "one of the highest honours a person can receive." Just a day before, the 29-year-old rapper became the youngest person ever to receive a Key to the City of his hometown Detroit. The honour is held by few, but among them are Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown Records, and Stevie freaking Wonder. In other words, good company.
His stop at Toronto's refurbished Rebel for the only Canadian stop on his 22-date "I Decided Tour" found him unloading his 85-minute set with efficient expertise.
Dressed in a white tee and light jeans, a thick gold rope chain around his neck, Sean emerged in a royal-blue windbreaker that at his most charged-up moments — hood yanked over his head — gave him the look of a welterweight boxing champ ready to pummel his opponent. This verbal-assassin persona, best wielded during an a cappella "Sacrifices" against a blinking checkerboard of lights, was offset by a gentler Sean Don when he spoke directly to his congregation.
"Success is a feeling," Sean said at one point, preaching spurts of positive encouragement to an all-ages audience mostly younger than him.
Confident in the success of his fourth and most cohesive studio LP, February's I Decided, the headliner has piled up enough punch lines and forged enough A-list connections from his grind-it-out mixtape days that he now commands the dais with an air of humble triumph. He frequently showered appreciation on his Canadian fans, the city of Toronto and famous local pals the Weeknd and Drake.
Backed only by a trio of support players — "Henry" on drums, "Ahmir from Philly" on keys and longtime DJ Mo Beatz — Sean moved fluidly through a 27-track set list weighted heavily by his new platter, naturally.
Three songs in, hundreds of counterfeit $100 bills stamped with Ben Franklin's mug fluttered down from the ceiling to the greedy palms of the sold-out crowd. The excellent "Paradise" dissolved into a pair of Sean's Kanye-approved cameo appearances, "Mercy" and "Clique," giving the night a needed jolt.
Despite our hero's best efforts, the energy level dipped slightly mid-set as the tempo ratcheted down with a few lesser-known album cuts and smooth-tip joints like Twenty88's "On the Way," but these served as ideal washroom-break material before a frenzied sprint to the finish.
While a few crowd-pleasers ("My Last," "Marvin Gaye and Chardonnay") were either teased or left untouched, Sean ended strong. A return appearance from opener MadeinTYO for "Skateboard P Remix" led into "All Me" (sorry, no Drake cameo), G.O.O.D. Music posse cut "Champions," the indestructible "Blessings," the gloriously spiteful "IDFWU" and new hit single "Bounce Back."
Before he left, Sean called it one of the greatest nights of his life. We're not sure he woke up in beast mode, but he certainly ended the night that way.